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Latin America News: Epidemiologist-Turned-Mayor From Harvard University Receives $100K for Reducing Cali, Colombia Homicide Rates

First Posted: Oct 22, 2014 09:39 AM EDT
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Photo : Ben Bowes/Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero, an epidemiologist who got his degree from Harvard University, became the first recipient of the Roux Prize for reducing crime rates in Cali, Colombia, where he is mayor.

According to a press release, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington awarded Dr. Guerrero the $100,000 prize. The prize is for those who have "applied Global Burden of Disease (GBD) research in innovative ways to improve population health since the first GBD publication in 1993," according to a IHME press release.

Dr. Guerrero's epidemiology degree makes him an expert in studying the causes, effects and patterns of health and disease in confined populations.

"This award is a perfect example of why I wanted to study medicine," Dr. Guerrero said via the release. "Someone asked me as a child, 'Would you prefer to fish with a line or with a net?' If you want to practice medicine in the individual fashion, you are fishing with a line; that's fine. But if you really want to help more people, you fish with a net. That's public health; that's epidemiology."

When Dr. Guerrero became Cali's first mayor in 1992, violence was the city's biggest problem with a homicide rate of over 100 per 100,000.

Eventually, Dr. Guerrero discovered that, despite popular belief, drug traffickers were not the biggest contributors to the violence. Instead, he found that most homicides happened on paydays, weekends and holidays, and over 25 percent of victims were intoxicated. Eighty percent of victims died by a gun.

Dr. Guerrero started a violence prevention program and put restrictions on what time customers could buy alcohol. Firearms were also restricted. This eventually resulted in a 33 percent decline in homicides in Cali.

"What Dr. Guerrero has done to drive down violence using a public health approach is extraordinary," Dr. Rafael Lozano, director of Latin American and Caribbean Initiatives at IHME, said in the release. "This is a powerful illustration of how Global Burden of Disease data can influence policy at the regional level."

The epidemiologist took time off for other endeavors after his first term and was elected for his second term in 2011. He set a homicide rate goal of 60 per 100,000, which was reached in two years.

"Personally, I believe that measuring is the key of the scientific method, so I am all for indicators, location, coverage, quality, results," Dr. Guerrero said.

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Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @ScharHar.

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